Happy Easter from the Serge Kibuye team! We spent the day together as a team, as we always do, feasting at a brunch potluck with our Burundian neighbors, worshipping together, and finally hunting for Easter eggs. I love these small and large team traditions, and the passing of Good Friday death into Easter Sunday resurrection in community.
The events of the weekend gave me a chance to think about resurrection…about Jesus’ resurrection and our hope, as Christians, of eternal life. But also about all the small moments of resurrection and redemption that we see around us all the time, if we have eyes to see. I was reflecting mainly on a special story that I got the privilege to be a part of last month. Eric and I shared part of this story doing our time in the US in 2018, so if you got the chance to be at one of our presentations, the story might sound familiar to you, too.
Triphonie first came to see me at the end of her fourth pregnancy, about seven years ago now. Her baby had died before being born, and upon investigating a bit more, I found out that she had no living children. All of her first four pregnancies had resulted either in the baby dying before labor (in the last 1-2 months of pregnancy), or stillbirth, where the baby died during or shortly after labor. It was devastating for her, and difficult for us as the medical team to be a part of as well. I asked her to come and see me during her fifth pregnancy in hopes that it would end differently. Many times in Burundian medicine, we are shooting in the dark, without tests and labs to guide us, unsure of a diagnosis, trying treatments that aren’t necessarily proven to be of strong benefit. This was the case with Triphonie. But we did simple interventions: a monthly ultrasound, aspirin and vitamin tablets, steroids to help the baby’s lungs mature, and ultimately a Cesarean delivery a month before her due date. And miraculously, her baby was born alive, a little girl weighing just four pounds, who spent several weeks in our neonatal unit and went home healthy. I would see Triphonie and her daughter from time to time around Kibuye, her daugh
ter usually wearing an amazingly frilly party dress, both with big smiles on their faces. Do I remember all of my patients and their stories? Honestly, no, but Triphonie’s face and her story are indelibly burned in my memory.
Now, fast forward five years. It was just another OR day for me that Thursday morning in March…I had a list of C-sections to do that had been scheduled by my generalist colleagues. And I walked into the OR, and there was Triphonie getting her spinal anesthesia and smiling at me. She had come for her 6th pregnancy, a repeat C-section, and I was able to deliver her second living, healthy baby girl (full term this time). I asked my intern, who was doing the C-section with me, to translate to Triphonie how excited I was to be here, how thankful I was that she had two babies now, and that I still remembered all of her story. My intern, Patricia, said to me, “I remember her too. I was the medical student who cared for her baby in the NICU.”
It’s hard to explain how profound and impactful this is for me, on so many levels. First of all, this is a lady whose losses were incredible, and yet here at Kibuye, she received hope and ultimately new life in the form of her two daughters. She persevered, she tried again, and God put us in the right place at the right time to be able to participate in that gift of resurrection and redemption. In those moments when we’re stuck on that fourth pregnancy, the loss and the death and the brokenness (not unlike Good Friday), I have a story to cling to now to remember that this is not the end. Not for Triphonie, not for me. Sometimes we get to see the curtain pulled back and witness the NEXT pregnancy, the success, the miracle. The Easter Sunday. Sometimes we don’t see it, but it’s always going to come in some form or another. And this story helps me remember that.
Secondly, we’ve been in Burundi for nine years now. We came in with so many dreams and ideas and plans. Things have been infinitely harder than anticipated, or things have been harder in unexpected ways. Things haven’t always looked how we thought they would. But still, nine years later, our team is still here. And that nine years of constant presence and partnership with our Burundian colleagues means that sometimes we can look back and see how changes have come, slowly by slowly. Sometimes I can be part of someone’s story in a way that I couldn’t have been in we had only stayed a year or two. For Triphonie, I’ve had the chance to treat her during three different pregnancies over 7 years. That continuity is amazing to me. Or in another aspect, there was no NICU when we arrived nine years ago…there were cardboard boxes at the foot of the mom’s bed for the preterm babies. Triphonie’s baby is alive because of care provided by our competent NICU staff and locally made equipment like incubators.
Finally, perhaps my favorite part of the story was Patricia’s involvement. Not only did I have continuity with Triphonie, but Patricia had gotten to know her five years earlier as a medical student, and now here she was doing a C-section as one of our stage professional interns. Our team has been able to teach and train now hundreds of students at multiple and progressive levels, impacting health care throughout the entire region. All the stories that have impacted me….have also impacted other Burundian doctors as well. They remember these stories of hope and resurrection and redemption, too.
So on we go, in this Easter world where there is a promise of already and challenge of not yet. I am so grateful for the chance to reflect back on these stories, which give me hope for the road ahead. The tomb is empty. Death has been defeated. We wait with expectation.